UNC senior libero plays with ‘CLASS’

Kaylie Gibson modestly laughs, shrugs off the suggestion and says she doesn’t know if she considers herself a hometown hero.

“It’s cool being so close to home,” said the North Carolina volleyball senior libero, an Apex native. “I really don’t know what else to say about it though.”

But for Gibson’s coach, Joe Sagula, the title is fitting.

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“She really is like the hometown hero, with Apex just right down the road,” Sagula said. “Her parents are always at all of the matches. It really shows their support for her and for the whole team.”

Gibson’s parents have attended every home volleyball match during their daughter’s career at UNC and have only missed two away matches.

Gibson’s mother Debbie agrees that calling her daughter a local hero is appropriate, especially for the players on Gibson’s former club volleyball team, which she helped coach during her freshman year of college.

“Triangle Volleyball Club had an interest in her coaching and approached her because she was always good with the younger girls,” Debbie Gibson said.

“They thought for the younger girls coming up through the ranks, seeing this short 5-foot-3 girl who’d come through and made it, and is playing at Carolina, would really be a good example.”

The community involvement, along with Gibson’s personal record on the court and in the classroom led to her nomination for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award this year.

“I remember when they told me that I was being considered,” Gibson said. “It was in August, I believe, and I had to send all this stuff in for consideration. Then I was notified by email that I’d made the top 30.”

The award is presented each year to the outstanding senior NCAA Division-I Student-Athlete of the Year in 10 different sports. The award celebrates seniors who have honored a four-year commitment to their school and who have excelled in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition.

Gibson was not expecting to make it as far as she has in the selection process.

“One of my teammates came up to me in the academic center and congratulated me on being a finalist and I said, ‘Thanks,’ thinking she meant for being in the top 30,” Gibson said. “But she told me that I’d made the top 10. I couldn’t believe it.”

During her junior year, Gibson was selected as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and was a member of the All-ACC First Team and the AVCA East Region team and was an All-American Honorable mention player.

“It’s fitting (that she’s nominated for the award),” Sagula said. “It’s great that she’s getting the recognition because she’s a little bit of an unsung player, just because she doesn’t get the kills and points. But everything that she does contributes to those points that we see.”

As a part of a top-10 nationally ranked defense, Gibson led the ACC in digs per set in her junior year, and was ranked in the top 15, averaging 5.48 digs per set. She ranks second in UNC history in dig average, posted double-digit digs in all but two matches last season and finished last season with 1,496 career digs.

Although she understands that those recognitions and statistics were part of the reason she received recognition, Gibson did not anticipate it.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” she said. “I am just so excited about it, and I’m so honored.”

Media relations directors nominate athletes for the national award based on the award’s four categories. An award nomination committee narrows the field to 30 players, and then a national media committee narrows those candidates down to the final 10.

There are three voting groups that decide the final award winner: the fan group, NCAA Division-I head coaches and national media who cover the specific sport.

Voting for the volleyball award will end Monday, and the award will be presented after the 2011 NCAA National Volleyball Championship in December.

Gibson’s title as a Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award Finalist helps her accomplish one of the goals she’s held since her freshman season — making a mark on the University.

The award brings recognition to Gibson’s technical achievements on the court, and those are benchmarks that will stay with the program regardless of the award outcome.

“Starting small as a freshman, I was just a defensive side on the court. I had an awesome senior libero to look up to and I always wanted to be just like her,” Gibson said. “She was an awesome player and I always wanted to leave my mark at UNC, just like I watched her do.”

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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